Promoting Wellbeing

Project overview

Which considerations should enter into our overall assessment of whether we should intervene to enhance someone’s wellbeing and how much weight should be allocated to each?

In my book, A Theory of Cultural Evaluation, to be published by Palgrave in 2012, I seek to advance objective, universal criteria by which to assess the value of cultural practices to human wellbeing. Evaluating cultures implies a form of perfectionism: if we know what will enhance a person’s wellbeing, there is a prima facie reason to intervene. However, perfectionist arguments against intervention, combined with failed interventions, suggest that there may be reasons for restraint. In this project, I employ analytical political philosophy and empirical case-studies on the effects of different interventions to explore the implications of applying a theory of cultural evaluation.

The project is run by Dr Matthew Johnson, and is mentored by Professor Susan Mendus. It is funded by the British Academy.

Matthew Johnson is the editor of Global Discourse.

Project objectives

The project has the following objectives

1)      To examine the philosophical relationship between perfectionism, intervention, toleration and recognition

2)      To establish the importance of autonomy, toleration and recognition to the conception of wellbeing advanced in the theory of cultural evaluation

3)      To identify and evaluate the options available to political bodies in dealing with harmful cultural practices

4)      To explore the importance of type of culture to the effect of public policy on wellbeing 

The first part of the project, covering issues 1 and 2, is a philosophical inquiry into the status of public policy options within perfectionism as a paradigm, leading into examination of the relationship between autonomy, toleration and recognition and my account of wellbeing – particularly with regard to capabilities. 

The second part of the project, covering issues 3 and 4, is an attempt to conceptualise and evaluate, through case-studies, the forms that intervention can take. There are a number of considerations: which forms of harm are to be challenged?; does the intervention aims to alter cultures directly or circumstances?; is it conducted against a majority or minority?; is it conducted against an indigenous or migrant group?; is it conducted by a political body within its own state or in other states?


Johnson, M. T. (2012) A Theory of Cultural Evaluation, London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Johnson, M. T. (2012) ‘Towards a Theory of Cultural Evaluation’, Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy. DOI:10.1080/13698230.2012.680753

Johnson, M. T. (2012) ‘Evaluating Cultures: The Instrumentalism, Pluralist Perfectionism and Particularism of John Gray’, Educational Theory, 62: 5.

Johnson, M. T. (2011) ‘Towards the Development of Objective, Universal Criteria of Cultural Evaluation: The Challenges Posed by Anti-Foundationalism, Culturalism and Romanticism’, Social Indicators Research, 102: 2, 275-296. DOI: 10.1007/s11205-010-9680-x.